Mount Peter Hawk Watch History
Selected News Clippings

1958

Stiles Thomas, one of the founders of the Fyke Nature Association, organized the first fall migration hawk watch at this site.

Here's the text, from Oct. 23, 1958, edition of the Wyckoff News: (courtesy of Jim Wright's research)

1958 Newspaper The Fyke Nature Association held its largest field trip to date on Saturday when 33 members gathered at Mt. Peter, N.Y. to take part in operation Hawk-watch. Mrs. Henry R. Walcott of Wyckoff, Field Trip chairman, reported that the count for the day was 227 migrating hawks which probably exceeds the number seen at any of the other 17 Hawkwatch locations in N.J., N.Y., Conn., Penn., or Maryland.

The Fyke group is taking part in this hawk and eagle study to assist the Montclair Bird Club and the Fish and Wildlife Service which is studying haw'k migration.

Their lookout point is on the property of Andres Restaurant on the mountain top.

Mrs. Robert Phelps of Saddle River, the clubs official recorder, said the most common bird sighted was the large rodent eating hawk, the red tail. Fifty-two of these were seen. Next to these in number were 46 red-shouldered hawks, a species that feeds almost entirely on rodents, snakes and frogs. Other hawks identified by the group were 33 sharp-shin hawks, 25 sparrow hawks, 12 marsh hawks, six Coopers hawks, 2 peregrine falcons and 2 pigeon hawks or merlins. Fifty hawks could not be identified. Chuck Malley of Allendale, and Mrs. Phelps, won the club prize for giving the closest estimate of hawks to be seen. Other interesting birds sighted were evening grossbeaks spotted and identified by Ned Muller and Nat Woodson of Ridgewood, and a large wedge of Canada Geese found by Bob Mackenzie, also of Ridgewood.

 

1965

This fascinating story from The Record on Sept. 28, 1965, features some terrific quotes from the legendary Stiles Thomas -- and mentions the decline in Bald Eagles back then: "Ornithologists are worried that pesticides may be killing the birds, whose population has declined sharply in recent years." I also love the fact that the story features a photo of my favorite -- a Red-shouldered Hawk. (introduction by Jim Wright)

Hawks Switch Travel Pattern

1965 Newspaper ALLENDALE: Observations made atop Mt. Peter in Orange County, N. Y., during an 18-day census of migrating hawks turned up some strange departures from normal migration patterns, Stiles Thomas, chairman of the project, indicated last night. A dozen or so hawk species are seen each year during the fall migration, Thomas said, and of them the most common by far is the broadwing, which migrates in flocks.

But this year there were more specimens of another species seen than there were broadwings, By contrast, Thomas said, the number of sparrow hawks counted was double the previous high. The number of birds seen this year was about the average for the past seven years the census has been made, Thomas said. Apparently the decline in numbers of broadwings was offset by increased numbers of sparrow hawks, Thomas said. He had no explanation for the variations in species populations.

BALD EAGLES MISSED

No bald eagles were seen, Thomas said, although at least 1 and often 4 have been seen other years. Ornithologists are worried that pesticides may be killing the birds, whose population has declined sharply in recent years. At Hawk Mountain, Pa., where many bald eagles have been counted in past years, Thomas said onlv 40 were counted this year and they were all adults, indicating that the birds had not successfully reproduced. Thomas said.

Mt. Peter is is one of the best vantage points in this area to observe hawks, Thomas said, because the birds seek out mountains, gliding from one to the next on the updrafting air currents mountains cause. The birds start moving about 9 A. M., he said, after the wind has started up, and quit for the night about 5 P. M. The blustier the wind the better hawks seem to like it, Thomas observed, but said the hawks seem to have no preference for a sunny day over a cloudy one.

The birds are masterful navigators of air currents, Thomas said, and are able to glide southwards regardless of wind direction. The watch will be resumed from October 9 to 17 for the migration of red-shoulder and red-tail hawks, species that start their migration later than others, Thomas said. The census is made by the Fyke Nature Association, and about 80 persons have participated in it this year. It is done mostly for the pleasure and edification of those doing the watching, Thomas said, but the census data are forwarded to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

 

1989

This story is also from The Record.

Area hawkwatchers have a field day

By LORRAINE ASH

1965 Newspaper From the top of Mt. Peter in Warwick, N.Y., all eyes are on the hawks flying overhead, particularly in September and October when the Bi-State Hawkwatch Coalition keeps the lookout manned daily.

John Brotherton of Mahwah, a member of the Fyke Nature Association in Wyckoff , was on duty Thursday, logging the temperature, wind speed, wind direction and other data. "We do this every hour," he said, putting down his binoculars for a moment to write in his notebook. Data collected at this and other area hawkwatching posts, such as that on Hook Mountain in Upper Nyack, is sent to a central depository at Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania. Along with statistics from across the nation, the information is made available to scientists and researchers.

"Hey, aren't they turkey vultures?" yells out a neophyte hawkwatcher from Greenwood Lake, who came to do some viewing and enjoy the morning sunshine. "Isn't that a red head?"

"No, that's a hawk," Brotherton responds.

"What about that over High Point? I'm going to guess that's a sharp-shinned."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Brotherton says slowly, surveying the area through his binoculars. "See that flap-flap-sail, flap-flap-sail."

So goes the day at the lookout, where the record number of broad-wing hawk citings was 6,658 Sept. 21, 1971.

"They're the most numerous here," Brotherton explains. "Some live and breed here, but most breed to the north. More than 2,000 were seen migrating here Sept. 14,- and another 2,000 last Sunday."

In fact, Sept. 14, 15 and 16 are the best days to see the birds in New Jersey, which is along the Atlantic fly way, a position that makes it an excellent state from which to birdwatch. The type of hawk spotted second most frequently at Mt. Peter is the sharp-shinned, of which 337 were cited Sept. 29, 1986. These statistics come from the hourly logs kept by those posted on the lookout. Most days visitors are likely to see the indigenous turkey vultures which, like other resident raptors, or predatory birds, are identifiable by their flight patterns. Those on a migration will sail through the area in one direction, but those who live nearby swoop, turn, circle and generally stay in the area on a search for dead animals below. The best weather is when there northwesterly winds. The hawks, for whom the migration is a long and arduous event that could take weeks, want to go the longest distance while expending the least amount of effort.

"There may be days they don't eat," Brotherton said, "so they want to conserve energy."

Travel, then, is limited to the daylight hours because of the hawks' flying technique, that is, sailing on rising currents of air. Birds which migrate at night simply flap all the way.

"During the day there are 'thermals,' or spirals of hot air that create an updraft," Brotherton explains, adding that the hawks like to get on top of these to get boosted upwards and for a little while sail effortlessly on top. Then they glide down in whichever direction they want to go. Sometimes dozens, and even hundreds, of hawks are cited at the top of a thermal, a phenomenon called a "kettle."

For the avid hawkwatcher, the thrill of spotting the birds is as exciting as the challenge of identifying which type of hawk they are seeing. In addition to the common broad-winged hawk, others seen in this area include the osprey or "fish hawk," the northern harrier or "marsh hawk," the sharp-shinned hawk, the red-tailed hawk and those of a smaller variety, such as the crow-sized American kestrel or Cooper's hawk. The red-shouldered hawk is endangered in New Jersey. And later in the season spotting a northern goshawk can be a treat.

In color, most hawks are brown, gray or white. "But some are quite spectacular," said Brotherton. "Personally, I'm not addicted. I put in some time and enjoy it but there are those among us who hold on to their binoculars and are as excited at sitting at 3 p.m. as they were six hours before."

There are half a dozen enthusiasts in the ranks of the Highlands Audubon Society, a group comprised primarily of members from north Jersey and New York state. But the number of hawkwatchers can get as high as 40 on a heavy day in either September or October atop the mountains. Local people who helped organize this year's bi-state hawkwatch, sponsored by the Fyke Nature Association as the thirty-first in the area, include Stiles and Lillian Thomas and Martha Webster, all of Allendale, and Judith Cinquina of Upper Saddle River.

 

2005

The Fyke Nature Association once again becomes the official sponsor of the Mount Peter Hawk Watch, as reported in the Fyke 2005 spring newsletter.

SECOND TIME AROUND

By Judy Cinquina

2005 Newletter It's not often you get a second chance, but in 2005, the Fyke Nature Association has an opportunity to take back a mountain. The Highlands Audubon Society (HAS) has been forced to give up the hawk watch and close down its organization. Mount Peter hawk watchers are thrilled that Fyke has agreed to, once again, sponsor the watch. In 1971, Fyke gave the Mount Peter Hawk Watch to HAS and missed the biggest one-day flight Mount Peter ever had. On September 21, 1971, 6,787 hawks, primarily Broadwings, were tallied, a record that still stands, and not one Fyke member was present. Unfortunately, the last few years have produced storms along our east coast that have pushed Broad-winged Hawks west of Northeast watches, but maybe 2005 will be different. With a lot of luck, a bit of bad weather to back things up, and a strong front with northwest winds to push migrants through Fyke members could beat that old HAS record.

Fyke, however, does have one record that still stands. Back on September 11, 1965, Charlie Mayhood and Steve Bailey tallied 210 Sparrow Hawks (American Kestrels), in one day. Stiles Thomas recounted the event in a 1980 HAS newsletter: "The peak occurred between eleven o'clock and noon... (The Kestrels) sped by at a rate of mmore than one a minute during that hour. The flight diminished during the noon hour... and picked up again at one. Fifty-one were listed between one and two o'clock." To give you an idea how awesome that day was, in 2004, we recorded less than 51 Kestrels in all of September, and we haven't seen a 100+ Kestrel day since 1981. American Kestrels are on the decline everywhere in the Northeast, even at falcon-rich hawk watch sites like Cape May. Mount Peter numbers usually reflect what's happening all over the Northeast.

Mount Peter is the third oldest hawk watch in the country. Montclair is a year older, and Hawk Mountain, PA is the oldest. Its beginnings are best related by Stiles: "Mt. Peter came into its own as a hawk lookout during the Montclair Bird Club sponsored 'Across the State Hawk Watch of 1958'. The Fyke Association was assigned this location, which was unknown to our members... This was a two-day 'watch' held on September 20th and October 18th. Only 90 Broadwings were tallied on September 20th, and along with 31 other hawks of four species, the day's total was 121. Later, we took much pleasure in finding that we had seen more hawks than were observed at 16 other locations. This kindled our interest in the whole thing, and many of the twenty-five members present became experienced hawk watchers."

From these humber beginnings, Mount Peter expanded to a full-time watch in the 1980's, with volunteers present from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily, September 1 through November 15. Originally owned by the Valley View Restaurant, the five-acre site was purchased by New York State in 1990. That same year, an Eagle Scout constructed our platform. Located just off NY Route 17A between Greenwood Lake and Warwick, Mount Peter is the highest point on Bellvale Mountain, which is part of the Skunnemunk Ridge that runs 16 miles northeast to Cornwall on the Hudson. In the early days, Mount Peter was almost balk, and hawks were low, but in the ensuing 47 years, the trees have crowded our sight lines and the hawks have become noticeably higher. Mount Peter's numbers are moderate, averaging a total of just over 7,000 the last 10 years. It is a convenient site, located a few hundred steps from a parking lot, and most visitors can find a seat on our platform. Fyke members are always welcome. In any case at least on Fyke member ought to be there on that golden day when HAS's old record is trashed. More details will follow in the summer newsletter.